We have two independent live transcription notations of this tune in Edward Bunting’s papers. In this post we will look at both of them in turn, and then we will discuss the likely provenance of each. We will also briefly consider other versions of the tune.

The “Damn your Body” transcription

I think the earlier of the two is a live transcription notation written in the 1790s by Edward Bunting into the group of pages I am calling the “Damn your Body” section of his collecting pamphlets. The manuscript page is Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 page 196/194/203/f96v, and our tune is written on the first two lines. Bunting’s title is “Brad doag Breagagh” and underneath the notation he gives a translation “a young lying thief”.

Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.29 page 196/194/203/f96v
Download PDF typeset version or mp3 machine audio

As with other notations in this section of the collecting pamphlets, the tune seems clear and unproblematic. We can be fairly sure it is a live transcription, because of the abandoned dots at the end of the first line of notation, which are replaced by the notes on the second line. I assume the entire notation started as this kind of dot, which was expanded out with stems, and then with beams and barlines and bar numbers. I don’t know if Bunting would have quickly added all these extra markings to the initial dots right there while his informant was performing, or if he went home with the bare dots and reconstructed the rhythm and timing weeks later at the piano. Is there a way we could tell?

The tune seems to be set in D neutral; we see the characteristic neutral-mode run at the end D C A / A G E / D (a D neutral pentatonic mode has the notes D, E, G, A, C and is related to C major). But the tune also has a D minor flavour (a D minor pentatonic mode has the notes D, F, G, A, C, and is related to F major). We see bars 7 and 8 dropping to rest on F before rising again to D – this is a characteristic movement of a minor-mode tune.

Either way, the tune seems to require the passing B in bar 7. This B is not available in the traditional Irish harp tunings, and that fact combined with the clarity of the notation makes me thing that (like many of the tunes in the Damn your Body section), this is most likely a transcription from a vocal performance. It may be from the harper and singer Charles Byrne who is credited with many neighbouring tunes.

The Dominic O’Donnell transcription

There is a loose sheet in Edward Bunting’s papers which is folded in 4, and which looks like it was sent to Bunting in a letter. Bunting had many correspondents and there are a number of fragments of music notation in his papers, that were posted to him by correspondents in Ireland and further afield. This sheet is kept at Queen’s in MS4.12, which consists of two boxes of loose miscellaneous papers including parts of a dismantled book, as well as odd sheets of music and extracts from letters to Bunting.

As an aside, just like for pages in MS4.29, there are the usual conflicting references for this page. Our tune is written on the 28th piece of paper in the second box of manuscript 12. There is no original “B” (Bunting’s original) numbering like we get in ms4.29, but there is an “O” (old) numbering which is visible written into the top corner of the other side of our page, “38”. I believe this is an old library foliation of part 2 , and that it is numbering the folio (one number for each 2-sided leaf) rather than numbering the page (which would give one number for each side of each leaf) Perhaps this dates from when manuscript 12 was bound up, before it was disbound and conserved as individual sheets. You can see the holes from the previous stab binding on our sheet, showing that it was bound with our page on the verso (left side of an opening). Some of the pages in manuscript 12 are folded pairs, and so a folded pair of pages has two of these old folio numbers, whereas the new Queen’s numbering numbers each piece of paper, so a folded pair of leaves (4 contiguous pages) has a single number. Queen’s also gives a letter to each “item” on a page, which can cause confusion since there’s no easy way to reference a particular page, and it is not always easy to know which “item” a fragment of text or notation might belong to. Colette Moloney in her introduction and catalogue (ITMA 2000) invented her own folio numbers which run continuously through parts 1 and 2, giving a different number to each leaf whether or not they are part of a folded pair, and she also gave her own unique reference number to each “item”. So our tune could be referenced as O (olim, old) MS4.12 part 2 f38v; or as Q (Queen’s) MS4.12.2.28f, or as M (Moloney I&C) item 12/248 on ms12 f88v. I think I will use the Q numbering system.

Anyway let us have a look at ms4.12.2.28f. This page (I suppose we call the whole page QUB SC MS4.12.2.28def) is tagged at the bottom “May 7th 1811 From Dominick O Donnell, Harper, from Mayo”. Our tune is on the last two lines and is titled “Bradogg”, and there is a translation but it is very hard to read. It seems to say “The Rogue” but the “R” is written over some other letter, and the “u” is written over a second “g”. I can’t make out the underlying original word – “Beggar”? I don’t know.

Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.12.2.28def
Download PDF typeset version or mp3 machine audio

The tune again is set in D neutral. Here we don’t have the problem run down to F in bar 7; we do have a passing B in bar 3 which I have put as B natural. There are two ambigouous notes which seem to be half on the line and half on the space, in bars 6 and 8. In each case, the machine audio plays both of the possible readings simultaneously. There is also a strange marking in between the second and third notes of bar 1. I am understanding it as over-written or deleted initial transcription dots; there is the trace of a very similar overwritten stem beneath the very first note as well.

The first thing to notice is that this is not Edward Bunting’s handwriting. Someone else has written this sheet and sent it to Bunting. Yet it really does look like a live transcription notation. The most diagnostic feature of the handwriting for me is the clefs. The treble clefs here are very different from Bunting’s treble clefs (you can find plenty of examples of Bunting’s treble clefs on his piano arrangements). Also notice how Bunting never usually puts clefs onto a live transcription notation, whereas this sheet has both clefs and a key signature of one sharp for the first tune, and also a time signature of “3” for the second tune. In a few places we can almost see underlying dots. This page really does look to me like it may be a live transcription notation, written at speed by some unknown person as the harper Dominick O’Donnell played.

I note that the title at the top of the page and the attribution to O’Donnell at the bottom are in slightly different lighter writing. Were these lighter tags added later? Are they Bunting’s additions to a sheet that someone has sent him? Does the “From Dominick O’Donnell” refer to the transcription session, or was the harper Dominick O’Donnell sighted and literate, and did he enclose these tunes in a letter he sent to Bunting in 1811, which Bunting counter-annotated to remind himself of the origin? I don’t know how plausible this is. Perhaps if the harper himself had written the notation it would look neater, and less like a live transcription notation? We need a handwriting expert to compare all the handwriting and suggest which words are in which hand, and whether any of them match Bunting’s handwriting.

Bunting himself in his 1840 book (intro p.91) says about Cumha an Devenish, the first tune on our page, “The Editor noted it down from the performance of Dominick O’Donnell, a harper from Foxford, in Mayo, who appeared totally unconscious of
the art with which he was playing”. If we assume that this is Bunting referring to himself as “The Editor”, this implies that Bunting did meet O’Donnell at some point and made a live transcription of Cumha an Devenish. But I don’t believe that this page (QUB SC MS4.12.2.28d) can be that transcription.

1811 is also much later than most of Bunting’s collecting trips – he seems to have pretty much stopped transcribing from tradition-bearers after 1802, and subsequent tune-collecting seems to have focussed on correspondence with other people, antiquarians or tune-collectors.

Some years ago I started collecting information about Dominic O’Donnell which you can find on my old website. I don’t think I have anything to add at this point.

Other versions of the tune

Edward Bunting made piano arrangements of this tune in the late 1830s, in preparation for his 1840 book. First we can look at a piano arrangement in QUB SC MS4.33.5 which looks to me like Bunting working out his ideas. The title is “The Bradogg” and the pencil addition at the bottom reads “from Dominick O Donnell”. The fragments on the final staff are not part of our tune, but relate to the piano arrangement on the previous facing page 19, “I wish I was a little swallow”, but it is interesting that the O’Donnell tag is written below that, showing that it was inserted much later.

Queen’s University Belfast, Special Collections, MS4.33.5 p.20
Download PDF typeset version or mp3 machine audio

Edward Bunting seriously thought that this was a reasonable way to present the old harp tune that Dominic O’Donnell had played. I think it is important to keep reminding ourselves of who Bunting was and what his world view and presumptions were. It is very subtle how Bunting has validated his Haydnesque piano arrangement as being ancient and Irish, though writing at the bottom “from Dominic O’Donnell”. Its no surprise that people (including me) have subconsciously assumed that this classical piano style somehow reflects the taste and worldview of the old harpers. We are all still working under the legacy of this colonial and Anglo/classical-centric view of the music 200 years later.

There are further arrangements of the Bradog done by Bunting’s editors in preparation for the 1840 printing, but I haven’t looked at these. The details and descriptions come from Colette Moloney’s Introduction and Catalogue (ITMA 2000). The version in QUB SC MS4.13 p.15 titled “The Brad-Oge / very ancient, author and date unknown / From Dominick O’Donnell Harper of Foxford Co Mayo in 1810”, and in QUB SC MS4.27 p.54 titled “The Bradog / Very Ancient / From Dominick O’Donnell the Harper in 1809”.

The tune was finally printed as no.21 on page 18 of The Ancient Music of Ireland (1840) under the title “The cunning young girl”, and the attribution to “D O’Donnell, Harper, County Mayo, 1810” was buried in the index p.x. The 1840 piano arrangement seems close enough to the ms4.33.5 version above, so I will not inflict a machine audio of it on you. The last four bars are repeated (with slight changes) to make it into a 14 bar tune.

I think it is clear that all of Bunting’s piano versions were ultimately derived from the transcription notation of the tune on MS4.12.2.28 that someone had sent to him, and that he ignored his own live transcription perhaps from a singer, on ms4.29 p.196. When Donal O’Sullivan came to edit the manuscript sources of Bunting’s printed piano arrangements (Bunting 1983 p.35), he used the MS4.29 tune and he seems unaware of the MS4.12 O’Donnell transcription.


I think we have two different forms of the title, one deriving from Dominic O’Donnell and the other deriving from the informant, perhaps a singer, perhaps Charles Byrne, who gave Bunting the transcription on MS4.29 p.196.

The simpler title comes from the MS12.2.28 piece of paper, sent to Bunting by his unknown correspondent, and presumably taken from the dictation of the harper and tradition bearer Dominic O’Donnell in 1811. The title is given as “Bradogg”. This title is used by Bunting and his editors or advisers as he develops the tune through into piano arrangements in the late 1830s; the title is given in the Anglicised form in the piano manuscripts as “The Bradogg” (MS4.33.5 p.20), and by his editors as “The Brad-Oge” (MS4.13 p.15) and “The Bradog” (MS4.27 p.54).

The translation is written in MS4.12.2.28 as “The [R]og[u]e”, though the R and the u are overwritten onto different letters which I can’t work out. This translation may have been from Dominic O’Donnell, or may have been done by our anonymous transcriber who wrote the notation and sent the sheet to Bunting.

We can understand this “Bradogg” title as representing the word bradóg, a roguish woman, or a female rogue. The translation “The Rogue” (with “the” as the definite article) is not quite right because then the Irish title should be “an bhradóg” with the “bh” pronounced like “v”. Bunting’s later versions “The bradog” are an interesting hybrid, using the English form “The…” and treating the Irish noun bradóg as a loan-word into English.

The other title comes from MS4.29, and I presume both the phonetical Irish and the translation were both written by Bunting from the dictation of his tradition-bearer informant in the 1790s. (I think Bunting did not have enough Irish either to spell the Irish title correctly, nor to make his own translation). Bunting writes the phonetic Irish title as “Brad doag Breagagh”, and he gives the translation “a young lying thief”. I note the use of “a …” rather than “the …” in this translation.

The adjective bréagach means lying (as in telling lies), and so looking at the translation this implies we should be understanding “brad doag” as a young thief. Well, óg means young, and so brad might perhaps be used to mean a thief, giving us a speculative original of this version of the title, “brad óg bréagach”. We could cautiously rule out other words for a thief such as bradaí, or bradach, since Bunting’s phonetical second word “doag” seems to represent the adjective “óg” directly following a “d” at the end of the first word. I am wondering if we can also cautiously rule out “brad doag” as representing “bradóg”, since that is a feminine noun and so the adjective would become “bhréagach” which Bunting would surely have written phonetically as something like “Vreagagh”. But I am not sure about this, and I don’t know enough about how these grammatical changes were pronounced in 18th century Ulster or Connaght Irish, or about how good Bunting was at capturing phonetically the pronunciation of his Irish-speaking traditional informants.

We could also groan when we notice that Bunting’s word on ms4.29 p.196 has both letters “g” written on top of other previous letters. His initial phonetic attempt might have read “Breadaah” or possibly even “Breadaa”. At this point I will give up and defer to those who have more Irish than I do!

We have two other versions of the title to deal with, both quite removed from the tradition-bearers, and which we should consider to be reconstructions by scholars who I don’t think quite get it right. In the 1840 index p.i we are given “An bhrad-óg bhréugach / an brad-og breugach / the cunning young girl”. This is unhelpfully inconsistent in the grammatical form of the Irish version. in his 1983 Bunting, Donal O’Sullivan suggests “An bhradóg bhréagach” and translates this as “the pert, deceitful minx”. I am not sure this is a useful addition to the discussion.

If the ms4.29 p.196 transcription was from a singer, I don’t know what words they might have sung. Bunting very rarely collected song words from his informants even if they were singing when he transcribed from their performance.

My header photo shows a view of Mount Nephin, county Mayo, from the South. This is the general area Dominick O’Donnell is said to have been from.

Many thanks to Queen’s University Belfast Special Collections for the digitised pages from MS4 (the Bunting Collection), and for letting me use them here.

Many thanks to the Arts Council of Northern Ireland for helping to provide the equipment used for these posts, and also for supporting the writing of these blog posts.

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